When Hazing Becomes Deadly

Madeleine Jones
December 1, 2017

Over the last 30 years, at least one hazing death has occurred every year on U.S. college campuses, and some years show multiple deaths on certain campuses. The vast majority of hazing deaths occur in college fraternities and most involve alcohol.

Hazing Rituals on College Campuses

Every year, college students are injured or killed during events associated with hazing. Often, heavy drinking, sleep deprivation, personal humiliation, nudity, sexual acts, and acts of violence are part of rituals that many students endure to gain acceptance into a popular group on campus. While college hazing is most commonly associated with fraternities and sororities, other organizations including sports teams and college marching bands also participate in hazing rituals.

It’s difficult to gauge the impact and prevalence of hazing on college campuses, since there are no organizations that formally track specific incidents. Colleges and universities typically don’t monitor hazing allegations, and colleges are not required to report incidents of student hazing to the U.S. Department of Education under the federal Clery Act. However, college studies on hazing reveal that 36 percent of students who are surveyed say they have participated in some type of hazing ritual while attending college.

Hazing activities on college campuses pose a serious threat to the health and safety of students. Hazing is a dangerous ritual that puts many students at high risk of severe injuries and death. According to experts in the field, more than 1,500,000 American students become new hazing victims every year. Hazing has become so prevalent and dangerous, 44 states, including Nevada, have passed anti-hazing laws that make it illegal.

Nevada Anti-Hazing Laws

According to Nevada anti-hazing laws, any person who engages in hazing is guilty of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, depending on the severity of injuries sustained by the victim. In Nevada, hazing is defined as any activity where a person recklessly or intentionally endangers the physical and/or emotional health of another person for the purpose of affiliation or initiation into an academic association, student organization, or athletic team at a high school, college, or university within the state.

In 1999, the Nevada State Legislature passed a bill that makes hazing a crime. In 1977 at the University of Las Vegas, the Kappa Sigma fraternity was suspended when eight pledges suffered injuries from a hazing ritual. Today, those fraternity members accused of hazing could face criminal charges and prosecution resulting in steep fines and jail time.

In Nevada, hazing laws apply to all student clubs and associations including fraternities and sororities, as well as student members and adult mentors or coaches affiliated with the associations. Examples of hazing include:

  • Compelled intoxication from alcohol and/or drugs
  • Forced consumption of alcohol, drugs, food, drinks, and other substances
  • Physical violence
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Public humiliation
  • Sexual acts and nudity

It is illegal to impose any degree of physical brutality on members or initiating members of school associations and clubs. In 2008, Alpha Tau Omega fraternity pledges at the University of Nevada, Reno had their buttocks branded. In 2010, a South Tahoe softball coach forced players who struck out to consume alcohol. In 2011, five Churchill County High School wrestlers were accused of locking a team member outside naked, after they took all of his clothes.

To discourage young people from participating in hazing rituals, Nevada anti-hazing laws are very strict. A personal injury lawyer often sees cases where hazing victims actually consent to hazing practices just to be accepted into a group or association. However, in Nevada consent is not a valid defense to hazing. A prosecutor must prove that a defendant is guilty of hazing before he/she can be convicted, so physical evidence of hazing such as injuries or smartphone videos is essential to prove guilt. Student organizations often follow rituals and traditions that involve no abuse or wrongdoing, such as everyone wearing the same colors or mandatory participation in club activities. Such activities do not represent hazing.

Nevada Penalties for Hazing

Nevada criminal penalties for hazing depend on injuries and severity of injuries that result from the incident:

  • If hazing does not result in substantial bodily harm, hazing will be charged as a misdemeanor. Penalties can include up to $1,000 in fines, and/or up-to six months in jail.
  • If hazing results in substantial bodily harm, hazing will be charged as a gross misdemeanor. Penalties can include up to $2,000 in fines, and/or up-to one year in jail.
  • If hazing results in death, the perpetrator can be charged with involuntary manslaughter or second-degree murder. These charges carry felony penalties that can land a person in a Nevada State Prison for many years. The victim’s family may also bring a civil wrongful death lawsuit against the perpetrator or perpetrators through a Nevada personal injury lawyer.